(PARIS) — Ludovic Mohammed Zahed is braced for controversy, maybe even worse. A gay Muslim and an expert on the Koran, Zahed plans to open Europe’s first gay-friendly mosque in Paris at the end of this month. He calls it a place of shelter as well as a place of worship.
“We need to have a safe space for people who do not feel comfortable and at ease in normal mosques,” Zahed told ABC News. “There are transgender people who fear aggression, women who do not want to wear head scarf or sit in the back of the mosque. This project gives hope back to many believers in my community.”
“Common prayer, practiced in an egalitarian setting and without any form of gender-based discrimination, is one of the pillars supporting the proposed reforms of our progressive representation of Islam,” he said.
“The Unity” mosque will initially operate in a Buddhist temple in a neighborhood in eastern Paris, and will emphasize “accepting everyone as equally God’s creation. …I hope straight men will pray together with gay men and women, everyone,” said Zahed who declines to make public the address of the venue, due to security concerns.
Zahed’s mosque will honor some Islamic traditions, like Friday prayers (Jumu’ah), and the Muslim marriage contract (Nikah) to bless same-sex marriage. It will also perform funeral rites (Janazah) for those who have been denied a traditional Islamic funeral based on Sharia law because of their sexual orientation.
“It is a safe place to worship,” said Zahed, where no religious questions will go unaddressed. “Our imams will talk on any taboo topic.”
Zahed will be one of three prayer leaders, along with a female French convert to Islam and another man who is being trained.
“Current Islamic ethics may condemn this sexual orientation,” Zahed said, “but in fact nothing in Islam or the Koran forbids homosexuality. Indeed, for centuries, Muslims did not consider homosexuality to be the supreme abomination that they do today.”
According to Zahed, renowned Muslim poets wrote odes glorifying handsome boys. Some were interpreted as metaphors for loving God, but some also seem to reference gay intimate relations. He argues that homosexuality became criminalized only under European colonialism.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Paul Cruickshank and Michael Pearson, CNN